Saturday, 4 January 2014

Cookmaids and consumers

Nathaniel Bacon's 'Cookmaid with Still Life of Vegetables and Fruit' (c. 1620) is a picture that makes Alain de Botton feel less alone. He says:

"... at it's best, consumerism is founded on a love of the fruits of the earth, delight in human ingenuity and due appreciation of the vast achievements of organised effort and trade ... A good response to consumerism might not be to live without melons and grapes, but to appreciate what really needs to go into providing them."

Bacon was a gentleman amateur artist. He probably picked up his painting style in the Low Countries, cradle of early modern mercantilism, where buxom servants surrounded by horticultural commodities were a popular subject. 

The luminous melons at the focal point of the painting may be another source of hope and reassurance for Botton, although he doesn't mention them. In fact he doesn't refer to the servant at all. She doesn't look very comfortable. That could be a response to her objectification, or maybe she's just nervous of the giant cabbages.

I don't really get this idea of 'conscious consumerism' (ethical or otherwise) as a route to self-realisation or social change. To me it makes far more sense to focus on the human, on the worker as subject. But I hope at least, from now on, Botton will get his solace from fairly traded melons and grapes.